Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Lumineers, Music Hall of Williamsburg, April 21st 2012

                                    (All photos by Ryan C. Zerfas. More at the bottom of the post.)

The Lumineers story could easily be a folk song—a tale about loss of brother and a friend, therapy in the name of porch stomp acoustic balladry, drinking from the chalice of hard knock realities of New York City living (technically Newww Jerrrrseeeey) and a resettling rediscovery in Denver. Followed by a grassroots uprising.

Riding high off the success of their single “Ho Hey,” the Lumineers would earn their self given champagne celebration during the encore. Before exclaiming to the audience how much Brooklyn felt like home, prior to playing the Talking Heads “This Must be the Place,” and passing their own celebratory bottle into the audience, the three-piece band charmed the sold out Music Hall of Williamsburg audience all night.

Life for the Lumineers hasn’t always been so easy.

In 2002, Wesley Shultz and Jeremiah Fraites lost Jeremiah’s brother and Wesley’s best friend, Josh, to a drug overdose at 19. Then ensues two friends cathartic tale of writing songs, playing gigs, causing trouble and eventually wearing themselves thin on the NYC cutthroat culture. They moved to Denver, and immediately put out an ad for a cellist, so, Neyla Pekarek, a classically trained local joined the band. The uprising began from there.

Their single “Hey Ho” caught the attention of many, most notably KEXP’s single of the day, Paste Magazine’s “What’s Next” and an illuminating placement on Hart of Dixie. Combining the screaming stomp of the Pixies “Hey” with the sentimental sap and brooding rasp of Ryan Bingham, the magical mixture has been able to uniquely meld what others in the root ripping stripped down Americana genre (Avett Brothers, Motel Motel, The Low Anthem, Justin Townes Earl) haven’t.

“I belong to you, you belong to me, you’re my sweetheart,” croons Shultz at a precariously welcome mid-set placement of “Hey Ho.” I love when bands do that,ride against the grain, and show the confidence in their other material, like similar foot to crooked porch percussion sing-a-longs “Big Parade” and “Stubborn Love.” You must feed the insatiable urge to clap along singing “oh-my-my, oh-hey-hey…” With such lovingly lavish lyrics, melodies that are easy to pick up, it’s hard to NOT hold a clinched fist over your heart and be slightly giddy, with thoughts of swirling hearts and puppy dog crushes.

The whole album (self titled debut) is chock full of “real boy” sentiment, continually delivered the way “real music” should—from within. It’s the kind sensibility you can close your eyes to, while the headache of life slips into the sweet sunset of soul deliverance. The feeling is exponentially expounded live, even if you didn’t know the music, like I didn’t. I have a feeling that for me, and for others, that’s about it change.

I’m glad I haven’t lived the life of the Lumineers. I haven’t experienced much loss or heartbreak. I live in a little box in NYC and pretty much do whatever I want. It’s a beautiful thing. I am, however, eternally grateful for the simplistic ease of pushing play and the musicians who’ve lived the life that make the music sound this way.

I can only hope to illuminate this fantastic notion to others…GET INTO THIS BAND.

Setlist: (I didn’t know all the songs and the band kept theirs electronically. This one from Philly looks right from my best educated guess of what happened.)

I Ain’t Nobody’s Problem (Sawmill Joe cover)
Big Parade
Flowers in Your Hair
Ho Hey
Subterranean Homesick Blues (Bob Dylan cover)
Classy Girls
Dead Sea
Charlie Boy
Slow It Down
Stubborn Love

Morning Song
Flapper Girls
This Must be the Place (Talking Heads cover)

This starts a series of pictures in which I was trying to use
concert goers phone screens as objects/variables, etc.
This one was SO CLOSE to what I wanted. 

Symmetry of Wes Shultz's junk. 
Credit for the wonderful hand model with the orange ring not obtained. 
Taken when getting an encore beer
from the tv screen downstairs
The Kopecky Family Band opened. A six-piece orchestra
of do-it-all fun having melodies, for the whole family. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Say Anything, Best Buy Theater, Friday, April 13th, 2012

At the top of the majestic dune, you can see some of the so called "dudes" 
who rocked Say Anything on theroad trip home.
Photo: Owen Weber (

After one of the best camping trips of my life, I was treated to a musical epiphany…Say Anything rocks!

It was a car ride. After a week camping in the beautiful sands of Ludington, MI, a bunch of dudes threw on In Defense of the Genre, a bombastic double album from Los Angeles’ Say Anything. It was one of those moments when all the stars align and the sonic landscape, matches perfectly with the outer landscape. Swirling trees and whizzing Detroit born automobiles; feelings, surroundings and genuine affinity for the “soundtrack of life” compounded together into the unfathomable movie script ending to a cathartic outdoor weekend. 

My buddy Kevin, one of life’s favorite spin-doctors, threw it in and said something along the lines of “CHECK OUT THIS TASTY LICK!?!?!” My life will never be the same. For some reason all the chord changes, silly song endings, insanely honest-sounding song writing, ridiculous combinations of musical styles from track to track resonated perfectly with how the weekend I never wanted to end, came to an end. But, we had the roadtrip back, and we were going to eat that shit up.

From that day forward (circa “that day-present”, Say Anything became my most listened to band in my catalog, absolutely destroying even the Foo Fighters and Taylor Hawkins in my Top Plays list on I-Tunes. Max Bemis and company aren’t the most remarkable song makers in the world, but there are a wide variety of idiosyncrasies for the senses, and it just happens to cleanse the pallet with ease, time and time again. He has a knack for finding a hook, blowing it up, twisting a bunch of knobs and finding that perfect piece of art within the creation—taking what’s given to him and using everything in his power, expanding internal expenditure without breaking the bank.

The sharks aren’t jumped, but they are beaten with hand whittled spears and who wouldn’t want to see that?

In March, Say Anything released Anarchy, My Dear their fourth studio album. Overall, I don’t like it as much as their other releases, branding it as kind of a Say Anything light beer offering, lacking some of the rawk I’ve come to crave from them, but recognizing sometimes that’s a good change of pace. It compliments their catalog well and is delicious, but not something I’ll crave for years to come.  

So, many years later, I find myself in a position where I haven’t seen my most listened to band live. Unacceptable.

The scene was much like when I was a kid and went to the Warped Tour. I, at 30, was seemingly the oldest person at Best Buy Theater by a good half decade. That’s all right, I’ve accepted my new concert role as toe-tapping beer drinker in the back, who listens to the music and remembers the day when concerts were more of a workout than a therapeutic disturbance from the grind.

I was eternally impressed with the energy Max Bemis brings to the stage, delivered with mental patient overzealousness, which was returned to him like white lightning from the youthful exuberance of the audience. It was like a tennis pro slinging serves and having them returned by Andre Agassi circa 1997—NYC was kicking in the township rebellion. Yeah, what about that sucker?

It seemed to make Bemis taken aback, causing him to gush several times about how, “this was the best audience of the tour,” but did so in a way that seemed genuine and spontaneous. I actually believed the most played cliché in the book. He did it so many times I actually started to feel bad for the guy, like he almost crossed the line of overthanking, like that of a grassroots soup kitchen rewarding their volunteers. Thankyou-thankyou-thankyou-thankyou…come again. At one point he even said, “we don’t deserve fans like you.”  

Their catalog features many sing-a-long “Woahs” and screaming backing chants. Many opportunities to let your voice heard as an audience, as many as there can possibly be at a rock concert, with kids up front on many occasions finding Bemis in their grill with the microphone awaiting your moment to immortalize yourself on tape. You know, where you hog the intellectual spotlight holding dominion over the whole, pointless concert? Yup. You had your moment kids up front.

Lucky enough, these guys are just as fun from the back. Right five-foot, 100-pound girl who insisted I hold her on my shoulders because “So Good” is “like totally her favorite song and she just HAAAAS to be able to see it!?” Her friends got enough pictures that, somewhere, I’m immortalized in film.

Burn a Miracle
Shiksa (Girlfriend)
Hate Everyone
In Defense of the Genre
Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too
Say Anything
Slumming it With Johnny
So Good
Every Man Has A Molly
The Church Channel
A Walk Through Hell
Alive With the Glory of Love

Admit It!!!
Admit It Again

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Alabama Shakes, Music Hall of Williamsburg, April 12th, 2012

Alabama Shakes press photo. I'd personally love to hear more from the doggy. 

Brooklyn Vegan, Zales, Starbucks' CD aisle, MTV, David Letterman’s birthday episode and my friend Sarah have all been tirelessly lending hands, with attempt to pull me up and into, the Alabama Shakes bandwagon. I’ve always thought as pompous as Pitchfork is, if they rate something above a 7.11 (Boys & Girls 7.8) I have a patriotic duty to scope it. After seeing the much-heralded band at the Music Hall of Williamsburg the other night, I too, am a believer.

Not since Hall & Oates has “Rock and Soul” rocked me… much…soul.

Once known as only The Shakes, this Alabamian sensation is lead by thick and fro’d lead singer Brittany Howard, who is as saucy as a trip to Big Bob Gibson’s Bar-B-Q, without a napkin. Her sassiness ensued early into the set, before introducing “Boys & Girls,” a song about boys and girls being friends, she claimed the fallacy that this couldn’t happen was some, and I quote, “that'ssomebullllllllshiiiiiit.”

The voluptuous songstress is grounded, in an electrical context, by bassist Zac Crockrell, who proves all guys named Zach, with a “c,” have big beards; guitarist Heath Fogg who didn’t do anything overly noteworthy; and, the most intently focused drummer I’ve seen, Steve Johnson.

There is much for the senses at an Alabama Shakes show. The sold out crowd of a couple hundred was loud and raucous, and could easily have passed for a mid-sized arena to hipsters passing by. The band seemingly can do no wrong up there, and it would be easy to take a naysayers outlet here, but the aura of soul and passion for music is conveyed with honest-to-goodness ease without awe-shucks shoulder shrugging. Like if Peyton and Eli Manning had an African American sister.

With all the hype, the furry and budding momentum the Shakes have going for them right now, I’d think it would be easy to placate the audience with grandstanding gesticulations and disingenuous discourse. It doesn’t seem to be the case. The four members feed off each other well, and when Howard picks her spots, she brings the house down, but doesn’t overuse it as if Staples gave her an easy button. That’d be too easy, and there’s no soul in simplicity.

      I think she best described her mentality on their concerts in an interview with music blog The South Rail:
  1.           Wear your dancing shoes
  2.           Bring a sweat rag
  3.           Leave your fear
  4.           It’s going to be a different kind of night
It really was, is and will be again, a different kind of night. They are special. At their best, they sound like a rockin’ version of Amy Winehouse. At their worst, they sound much better than what that image conjures.

When they come back to town, you’d better clear your schedule, grab a cold one and make it to the show. The good news is sweat rags (simply) make the best napkins.

Hold On
Hang Loose
I Found You
Always Alright
Boys & Girls
Be Mine
Worryin’ Blues
Making Me Itch
Rise to the Sun
You Ain’t Alone
Heavy Chevy

On Your Way
I Ain’t the Same
Heat Lightning

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Our Lady Peace, Bowery Ballroom, April 5th 2012

(Photo: Stolen from Wikipedia, 2010)

For some strange reason, for most of my life I’ve grouped Our Lady Peace with other multi-hit bands on the radio that weren’t “huge” but garnered similar radio play (and therefore listened to, because I really only listened to the radio during that time) from WGRD in Grand Rapids, MI circa 1997 like Seven Mary Three, Local H, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Lit, Splender etc, etc. But, if you look at the consistency of the catalog, OLP should break away from that grouping and be with the so-called “big dogs” of the era.

Using a ’95 to ’05 window, I’d be hard pressed to quickly name five bands better than Our Lady Peace. Throughout their first five albums, every song on each album has a place for me. I can listen to them all…all-the-way-through. They are certainly an underrated commodity I will try not to ignore any further.

Consistency being the key that unlocks this door, OLP never became universally huge, yet remained relevant with a couple hits on each remarkably dependable album. My friends didn’t all go to OLP concerts and wear the t-shirt, to school, the next day like a doggy bringing a dead bird to the doorstep with self-aggrandizing pride in the same vein as Dave Matthews Band or Smashing Pumpkins. And, perhaps it’s only because hindsight is 20-20, but if you could go back in time, what corner would you rather stand in?

Canadian bacon is rarely trumped.

So, when I heard OLP was “returning” to tour in 2012, and playing my favorite venue in the city, Bowery Ballroom, I knew I had to check it out. Nostalgia and legacy alike were floating around in my head like bubbly balloons filled with Labatt Blue. Now, I started this paragraph using the word, return, sarcastically. I did this to highlight the fact that the band never left (well, there was a hiatus or two). They somehow eluded MY playlist, but have been around keeping a somewhat low profile consistent and patient throughout the last few years.

My falling out with OLP took place around Gravity. I remember blasting that album all throughout the summer of 2002, but subconsciously the plays dwindled out of my massive rotation. You can’t listen to it all, right?

I also remember seeing the band in 2001 at the Orbit Room in Grand Rapids and being impressed with the cult fan base they had. I seemed to be the only person (in the orbiting room?) who didn’t know every lyric to every song and feel the need to scream it along with the band vehemently. Especially, when lead singer Raine Maida turns the microphone towards the audience, flipping the vocal script of the show (most notably on “4am”). Many bands pull similar moves, but are rarely executed with such charming confidence. I can dig it.

Cut to 2012. The band is promoting their eighth studio album Curve and hopes to shed the perceived cookie cutter mediocrity of 2009’s Burn Burn and 2005’s Healthy in Paranoid Times. Even 2002’s Gravity marked a distinct fork in direction from the psychedelic surreal aura their early music created, in favor of a safer rock aesthetic, which for me is forgiven due to Gravity’s ability to remain rock-steady all the way through. Like a medium well sirloin steak, it might not be as juicy as the medium rare you ordered—it’s still better than chuck.

The show I saw at Bowery was an extraordinary effort from a veteran band that’s too good to fade into the sunset. With a cult fan base, and a continued desire to find what made OLP so unique in the first place, they should be able to retain a mid-size venue profile throughout the foreseeable future. The sold out Bowery Ballroom was eating out of the Birdman’s (Raine Maida is no closer to looking like the Birdman than he was in 2000. He hasn’t aged at all!) hand throughout the 17-song, double encore set. You can’t hear a song like “Starseed” live and not want to jump around and lose your shit.

I was surprised not to see “Somewhere Out There” or “Life” and especially live gem “Julia” to which I perceived to “un-missable” numbers in their repertoire, but I guess you can’t have it all.

Other highlights included:

  • A delectable backdrop and projector unit that was set up near the back-side bar at Bowery. It must have taken up 6-7 people’s spots at the show. I wonder if they accounted for that when doling out tickets. It was remarkable packed in there, even for a sold out show.
  • After a couple newer songs, the hit parade of (in consecutive order): Clumsy, One Man Army, Superman’s Dead, All My Friends, The Birdman, Is Anyone Home?, left me extremely nostalgic for the days of cruising the Lake Michigan coast in my ’87 Mustang.
  • Raine Maida ventured to the balcony of Bowery Ballroom to sing, while hanging from the top railing like a crazy person about to jump. Part of me really thought he was going to jump!?
  • The opening band, The Pack A.D., was a two-woman band on a mission. A drummer and a guitarist. The guitarist had long black hair, a big red guitar and was wearing a white shirt. The drumming was mechanical and the guitar licks were thrashy. Yes, it was hard not to think “White Stripes,” but even so, I thought it was a worthwhile rip-roaring rock experience when complimented with enough Red Stripes to make whitey’s like me dance.
  • Seeing a lead singer passionately man a mega-phone into their vocal prowess never ceases to thrill me. I’ve seen many do it, none as proficient as Raine Maida.
  • One of my favorites “One Man Army” was performed with a great deal of said mega-phone, ending with Maida wailing falsetto into the microphone from his knees. The zeal was chilling, as the vocals were the last thing to ring out of the song.

Allowance (1st song on new album)
Fire in the Henhouse (2nd song on new album)
One Man Army
Superman’s Dead
All My Friends
The Birdman ("we haven't played this in a long time")
Is Anyone Home?
Thief (acoustic)
Find Our Way
Heavyweight (new single)

As Fast as You Can
Paper Moon